Monday, June 11, 2012

A Tomb in Margiana and Grave Goods from BMAC Burials

My husband took this photo at the Gonur Necropolis excavation site around the year 2000.  From the side of the grave we can look into 3,500 years of history.  The Gonur Necropolis is a large site, with many burials of Margiana people from different social strata.  The social status of the deceased is determined by the manner of burial within a certain spiritual tradition.  Since burial customs are slow to change, it might be safe to assume that most of the people buried there had lived within the same spiritual tradition.  Therefore, I might not be too far off the mark to say that the deference shown to a particular corpse would signify the level of society in which he/she lived.  

The grave shown above reveals two groups of bones; the skeletons of either individual do not appear to be complete.  The age or sex cannot be determined from the photo.  This is a more capacious grave than the most common ones at Gonur.  This appears to be a small chamber tomb with a raised area for pots and plates and enough space  for a second corpse.  
There appear to be some ornaments on one of the skeleton, but they remain stuck in the earth surrounding the skeleton.  

Within the graves of the various settlements of the Bactria-Marigiana Archeological Complex, which was related in material culture and in religious practices and burial customs, we find similar ornamentation mainly in the form of beads, amulets, seals and statuettes in addition to the household items.  Unauthorized digging or surface collecting from graves in Bactria yielded the beads that are strung on this necklace: 

Ancient Bactrian Steatite Faience and Shell Bead Necklace with Symbols  Contact me through the private message form above right.

The 'grave robbers' of so many of the BMAC ruins put such beads as those above into the market place where collectors could purchase them.  

This necklace is made of ancient beads from the ruins of the ancient settlements in Bactria which is now included in the country of Afghanistan. These kinds of beads were made and worn by the people who were buried there in the ruins during the period from 2,500 B.C. to 1,600 B.C. The circle and dot design is a common symbol used to decorate ornamentation of that time in the Bactrian culture.

Ancient Bactrian Steatite Faience and Shell Bead Necklace with Symbols

 The central bead on the shorter strand appears to be made of an ivory like material, either bone, shell, or animal tooth. Notable is the hole on that bead. It was worn through so many generations that even the hole in such hard material was worn into a triangular shape by the string that held it. This is characteristic of beads worn for a very long time. There are smaller beads on the strands that appear to be of the same material. One small bead still has the shape of a molar. 

The clay bead shown in detail below has an appliqué of an eye shape that protrudes from the surface of the bead. 

Ancient Bactrian Steatite Faience and Shell Bead Necklace with Symbols

The central bead on the longer strand is early glass, called faience. It was glazed with a greenish color in ancient times and some of the color is still present.

Faience was made in very early times in this region, because Bactria was a hub of the ancient trade routes and many artisans either traveled through here or were settled in Bactria. The wandering traders brought new knowledge and techniques to the bead makers in Bactria.

Faience was usually either painted or the pigment was added before the silica was heated to melt it and form it into beads around a fireproof rod. It could also be considered a ceramic depending on the amount of refinement it went through.

There is one tiny carnelian bead that has been clouded with chemicals from the earth in which it was buried. It appears to have been painted with designs, but the patterns traced there by the chemical inclusions are permanent integral parts of the tiny carnelian.

The collector will enjoy a close examination of each bead, which probably has an interesting story to tell the person who likes to 'read beads.' This piece is not only collectible, but also wearable.

The beads have been re-strung on nylon coated steel bead wire and furnished with a bronze plated zinc clasp.

Measurements: 21 in (53.5 cm) long
Central Bead on longest strand: 14 mm x 15 mm  Contact me through the private message form above right.


  1. As always, a fascinating read, Anna. If only the skeletons and beads could talk. Well, I guess they do in their way of only what they say can be fully translated. Just the idea of wearing beads that old almost gives me goose bumps trying to imagine the people who wore them so very long ago. The necklace you created with the beads does great justice to them. Hope the necklace will be worn for even more centuries.

    1. Thank you for your appreciation of the ancient things, Catherine. When I was young, I read Science Fiction; now I read about the past ;) My little blog is now bringing in a bit over 3,000 views per month, thanks to the support I have from a few history buffs who share the word. And true to the marketing standards I learned in business, a small percentage (38) came to visit my IM shop.
      Thanks again for your generous shares of the blog posts!